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How bear hugs are helping patients at Markham Stouffville Hospital

This Giving Tuesday, donations made to the Bear Necessities campaign will help to fund critical, life-saving equipment

You can help make a patient’s stay a little more ‘bearable’ and show someone you care at


ne evening, when Judy Discutido was working the night shift at the OLG data centre, she felt painfully bloated — and a cup of tea wasn’t helping. When she left at the end of her shift, she suddenly felt like someone had punched her in the right side of her stomach — so much so, that she threw up in the parking lot.

That prompted a visit to her doctor, who requested an ultrasound, which subsequently revealed nodules on her liver. Then, in March 2022, she went to the Emergency Department at Oak Valley Health’s Markham Stouffville Hospital (MSH) for bloating discomfort and abdominal pain. There she had another ultrasound and a CT scan and was referred to a surgeon, who she saw the very next day.

“The next thing I know, the doctor from the Emergency Department came in and told me that I had colon cancer,” says Judy. “I didn’t know how severe it was until I saw the surgeon, Dr. Alan Ing, who explained everything to me, and that the cancer had already spread to my liver.”

Judy was diagnosed with stage 4 inoperable colon cancer in March 2022 at the age of 60. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, the five-year net survival rate for colorectal cancer is 67 per cent, but this decreases as the cancer stage increases.

This came as a complete surprise to Judy, who had been feeling relatively healthy up until that point. She couldn’t bear to break the news to her family, so she told her sister — who had retired as a nurse from MSH’s Breast Health Centre three years ago — and together they told Judy’s husband and three daughters.

After her diagnosis, Judy had her first chemotherapy treatment the following month, in April. “It was really fast,” she says. “Since then, I’ve been having my chemo treatments every two to three weeks.” She is currently on her 34th treatment.

Judy feels fortunate to have a hospital like MSH just five minutes from her home in Markham. She gave birth to her third child at MSH. And hospital staff were there for her family when her niece tragically passed away. “It’s a family affair at MSH,” she says, in reference to the many family members who’ve been cared for at MSH.

With Judy’s diagnosis, MSH staff explained everything clearly and with compassion. “I just felt comfortable,” she says. “The staff were so gentle — I felt like I was getting treated like a VIP.” Her oncologist, Dr. Sam Babak, has been flexible, even allowing her to take some time off in the summer to enjoy quality family time. “He is just an amazing doctor, very gentle, very patient in explaining everything — explaining to me that I am coming here for chemo to give me a good quality of life,” she says. “And when I hear that, it gives me hope to keep on fighting. Remembering to fight until the end, and not to quit. It’s what keeps me going.”

Although the government funds many aspects of the health care experience, equipment replacements, technology advancements, and other upgrades are largely made possible thanks to community donations.

Last year, MSH opened the doors of its newly relocated Gale and Graham Wright Health Centre, Breast which offers six consult rooms, one family meeting room, one nurse assessment room and spaces two for dictation physicians. This new centre improves patient flow within the clinic for more than 4,000 patients who visit each year. The of Health the construction new Centre Breast at MSH was made possible by the generosity of MSH’s donors, and the work of the MSH Foundation.

Donations are continuously needed. Nearly one out of every two Ontarians will develop cancer in their lifetime, according to Cancer Care Ontario. That means hospitals will need to care for an ever-growing number of cancer patients.

As well, according to Cancer Care Ontario, the overall five-year cancer survival rate is up 65 per cent as of 2013 (with variation across cancer types), and while that’s good news, it means hospitals will need the resources to care for more cancer survivors.

“We are in dire need to expand our cancer centre. The number of cancer patients is growing. And if you hire more oncologists, you need more nurses, and then you need more space,” says Dr. Sam Babak.

That’s one of the reasons for campaigns like Bear Necessities. Created in 2016, the program began by offering teddy bears to patients of all ages who needed their spirits lifted.

Now, by purchasing a teddy bear for a patient for $50, donors can help to support critical, life-saving equipment — while bringing comfort to those who

need it most. Giving a ‘bear hug’ helps MSH purchase life-saving equipment and provide a lifetime of care to patients like Judy. It’s also an easy way to make an impact. The more people who buy a bear, the more the donations start to add up. “Little by little, it’s going to have a big impact in the care that patients can get,” says Dr. Babak. And this Giving Tuesday, those donations will be doubled. For every teddy bear purchased for a patient by a community member, a second patient at MSH will also receive a teddy bear, thanks to the generosity of Shahan and Aida Güler, who will match donations of up to $50,000. This Giving Tuesday, the goal is to deliver 1,900 bear hugs. “Support helps equip MSH with the latest equipment,” says Judy. “It’s the only way we can repay MSH for all they’ve done for our community. Not only for the present, but for generations to come.”

With Judy’s diagnosis, MSH staff explained everything clearly and with compassion. I just felt comfortable. The staff were so gentle - I felt like I was getting treated like a VIP.” -- Judy Discutido





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